St Andrews golfer Chris Kelly is looking forward to defending his Northern Open title on a course he reckons is one of the best in Britain.
He is referring to Royal Dornoch, where the Tartan Tour event is being held as part of celebrations to mark 400 years of golf at the Sutherland venue on June 21-24.
It will be the ninth time the Northern Open has visited Royal Dornoch but first since 1994.
Past Northern Open champions at the venue include three former Ryder Cup players in Eric Brown, John Panton and Harry Bannerman.
David Huish also claimed the title at Dornoch, as did Ewan Murray, who is now the lead golf commentator for Sky Sports.
“The Northern Open was fantastic last year because I played so well to win against some very good players on a very good course,” said Kelly of his triumph at Cruden Bay. “Also, I hadn’t won it before, so it was a win checked off the list.
“Now I’m really looking forward to defending the title and, while I’ve never played too well round Royal Dornoch, I always enjoy playing on what I think is one of the best courses in Britain.”
Kelly’s title rivals include two-time European Tour winner Alastair Forsyth, former PGA champion Andrew Oldcorn and PGA Cup-winning team-mates Gareth Wright and Graham Fox.
Also in the field are 2010 champion Greig Hutcheon, this year’s Silversea Senior PGA Professional Championship winner Robert Arnott and the O’Hara brothers - Paul and Steven.
Paul got his 2016 campaign off to a flying start with victory in the P&H Championship, the opening Order of Merit event on the Tartan Tour, at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian last month.
“Paul is definitely one of the contenders to win the Order of Merit this year,” acknowledged Kelly, who holds that title after he won both the Northern Open and Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship last year. “But then there are a lot of very good players who are more than capable of winning the Order of Merit title.
“My own golf has been a bit patchy so far this year but hopefully things are starting to come together and I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks at Royal Dornoch and Lossiemouth (venue for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open qualifier on July 2-3).”
Heather MacRae, who recently recorded a top-10 finish in the Hong Kong Ladies Open, returns to Tartan Tour action in the event while, as always, the field also includes a number of amateurs, the majority on this occasion representing the host club.
“Royal Dornoch is delighted to be hosting the Northern Open for the first time since 1994,” said the club’s general manager, Neil Hampton.
“The club is committed to the game of golf and shows this in many ways, one of which is hosting the most prestigious events.
“The Northern Open has a long and proud history and many of the game’s greats have won the event at Royal Dornoch.
“Eric Brown, John Panton, Harry Bannerman and David Huish are familiar names along with golf commentator Ewan Murray and Elgin-born Kevin Stables, the winner in 1994.
“With a list such as this we are sure whoever wins in 2016 will be a worthy champion and someone with a bright future in the game.
“Everyone at Royal Dornoch looks forward to seeing what today’s professionals can do on our Championship links.”
Shona Malcolm, the PGA in Scotland secretary, added: “It’s a privilege to be holding the Northern Open at Royal Dornoch this year, contributing to the 400 years of golf celebrations.
“The strength of the field shows the regard in which the professionals hold this venue, and there’s no doubt that we’ll see a deserving champion over these challenging links.”